August 11, 2008

Bradenville Angler Reels In An Extraordinary Catch

By Bob Frye

The beauty of fishing lies in the unexpected.

Cast out a line and anything can happen. Still, what Michael Chesla experienced last weekend is a bit out of the ordinary.

Chesla, who lives in Bradenville, was at Lloydsville Sportsmen's Club's pond. He was casting a sucker spawn on a fly rod, hoping to land one of the trout the club stocks, or perhaps even a bass.

He got neither. Instead, he landed what appears to be a pacu, a South American species native to the Amazon but often sold in pet stores as "vegetarian piranha."

"I reeled it in and when I reached down to grab the hook, I saw all of those teeth sticking out of its mouth and I thought, what the heck is this thing?" Chesla said.

Chesla thought he had a piranha, and the fish do indeed look very similar. Both are wide-bodied -- the one Chesla caught was 15 inches long and weighed 4 1/2 pounds -- with lots of teeth.

But Rick Lorson, area fisheries biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, said Chesla's catch is more likely a pacu, based on his examination of a photo of the fish.

"It is tough to tell without having a good shot of the mouth and teeth, but the rest of the fish reminds me of the pacu I have handled," Lorson said.

The difference between piranhas and pacus lies in their teeth. A piranha's teeth are incisors, meant for cutting and tearing meat. A pacu's teeth are "molariform," meaning they're meant for crushing and grinding vegetation, Lorson said.

Reports of the fish winding up in area waters are uncommon, but not unheard of, said Tom Qualters, assistant regional supervisor in the Fish and Boat Commission's Somerset office.

"I think once a year or so we get reports of someone catching what looks like a piranha or a pacu. Usually it's in a river, though," Qualters said.

Lorson agreed, but added that the fish have always in the past turned out to be pacus.

"The next piranha I handle will be the first one," he said.

The fish almost assuredly end up in local waters after being dumped there by a well-meaning aquarium owner who either can't or is no longer interested in caring for the fish, Qualters said. The fish are still doomed, though. They cannot survive Pennsylvania's winters and if not caught, would perish anyway when water temperatures drop.

Chesla had quite the experience in catching one, however.

"I cast out and it circled my fly, then circled it the other way, then bumped it before finally taking it," he said. "I fought it for about 15 minutes. On a fly rod, it was giving me a good time.

"It's definitely the most interesting thing I've caught around here."

Image Courtesy Wikipedia